“Every generation blames the one before,” so sang Mike and the Mechanics in the classic 1980s ballad ‘The Living Years’.
There’s more than a hint of truth about that in contemporary Ireland where the order of the day is out with the old and in with the new.
What is new and modern is generally taken to be unquestionably positive. What is from past generations is assumed to be old-fashioned and out of step.
Values that were widely-shared just a generation ago are dismissed as ‘old hat’ and progress – whatever that means – becomes the most cherished goal.
Anyone who pauses to ask questions about some of the directions that contemporary Ireland is taking is immediately silenced by being accused of wanting to drag us back to the 1950s.
Many of our politicians are crippled by the fear that they will be adjudged by some commentator or another to be not sufficiently modern. The constant mantra is that modern Ireland is a wonderfully compassionate place. In contrast to the values of previous generations, or so the narrative goes, we are the most tolerant we’ve ever been.
And yet, there are very real questions about contemporary Irish culture and the limits of tolerance.
In one 24-hour period last week, one homeless man in Dublin was scooped up while sleeping in his ‘home’ (a tent – process that in a wealthy country in 2020) and seriously injured after being dumped like he was a piece of rubbish.
The constant mantra is that modern Ireland is a wonderfully compassionate place. In contrast to the values of previous generations”
A short distance down the canal another homeless man who was sleeping rough froze to death. Just hours beforehand, bits and pieces of the body of a 17-year-old boy – a child, in other words – were found in a sack in a Dublin suburb.
Gardaí later reported that some more of the mortal remains of the same child were found in a burned-out car in another suburb of the capital.
That same evening, on the RTÉ News, there was a long report about a court case that day of a man who stands accused of murdering his mother-in-law. According to the prosecution, 15 different body parts of the woman’s body were found at nine locations over an area of 30 km in the Dublin mountains.
Taking those stories – from just one 24-hour news cycle – it would be hard to find a more graphic description for what Pope Francis has often referred to as a “throwaway culture” where even human beings become disposable.
The Pope has in mind a broad canvas from the cynical exploitation of the earth’s natural resources to an economy and financial system lacking in ethics. From the defenceless child in the womb, to the terminally-ill elderly person where life is not seen as gift, it becomes disposable.
“Men and women are sacrificed to the idols of money and consumption,” the Pope said shortly after his election in 2013. “That some homeless people freeze to death on the street, that is not news. On the other hand, a drop of 10 points in the stock markets of some cities is a tragedy. That is how people are thrown away. We, people, are thrown away, as if we were trash.
“Human life, the person are no longer felt to be primary values to be respected and protected, especially if they are poor or disabled, if they are not yet useful – like an unborn child – or are no longer useful – like an old person,” the Pope said.
The Christian ethical vision is an integrated one that sees genuine compassion at the heart of any just society. We should be able to critique and denounce what was undoubtedly wrong in past generations in the sphere of both Church and State without becoming intoxicated with a misguided notion of progress and thus blind to the faults in our contemporary culture.